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To be published in: e2000 Conference Proceedings.

Inter- and Intra-Organisational Barriers


to Sharing Knowledge in the Extended
Supply-Chain
Richard J BARSON1, Gillian FOSTER1, Thomas STRUCK1, Svetan RATCHEV1, Kulwant
PAWAR1, Frithjof WEBER2, and Michael WUNRAM2
1
School of Mechanical, Materials, Manufacturing Engineering and Management
The University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 115 9514065; Email: Richard.Barson@nottingham.ac.uk
2
Department of Computer-Aided Design, Planning and Production
PO-Box 33 05 60, D-28335 Bremen, Germany 2
Tel: +49 (421) 218 5536; Email: web@biba.uni-bremen.de

Abstract. This paper aims to describe the main barriers to knowledge sharing in the
extended enterprise. The barriers were identified through a literature review and
work with industrial companies. The barriers have been categorised according to the
TOP (Technology, Organisation, People) classification. The main finding is that the
majority of barriers are concerned with people issues.

1. Introduction

The development and improvement of the extended enterprise is an imperative issue for
many organisations. For the extended enterprise to operate effectively it is necessary to
share knowledge in terms of procedures, processes and working practices. This paper
identifies some of the difficulties and barriers to knowledge sharing and proposes methods
for overcoming them.
This paper is based upon the work carried out for two European Commission funded
projects. KARE (Knowledge Acquisition and Sharing in Requirements Engineering)
tackles the sharing of knowledge in the aerospace extended supply chain. CORMA
(Practical Methods and Tools for Corporate Knowledge Management) investigates
knowledge management in the product introduction process, from concept through to
manufacture, in the telecommunications sector. The results from KARE have been used to
help identify barriers to knowledge management that the ongoing CORMA project will
endeavour to overcome.
Many companies engage in joint product development projects with their customers and
suppliers, need to transfer information to suppliers enabling them to prepare for
manufacture, or need to keep their customers informed of progress. Barriers to knowledge
sharing can result in a failure to capture and translate requirements into meaningful
specifications, delays in product introduction, increased cost and ultimately customer
dissatisfaction. It is therefore important that organisations firstly become aware of barriers
to knowledge sharing and, secondly, take steps to overcome them.
Although recent research has emphasised the problem of knowledge sharing [1] it is still
difficult for companies to systematically integrate their day to day business with customers
and suppliers through knowledge sharing activities [2]. The majority of work concerning
knowledge management and sharing is restricted to internal issues. Companies do not use
their knowledge optimally due to their failure to identify and overcome barriers to
knowledge sharing.

2. New product introduction process in the extended enterprise

Gardiner [3] defines the Product Introduction Process as the business process used to
develop and introduce a new product into the market place.
A number of sources [4,5,6,7,8] outline the PIP using a flowchart. These diagrams all
start with the identification of a need, progress through a number of phases (e.g. feasibility,
design, development) and end with production. Figure 1 is a typical PIP as identified in the
literature. All the PIPs are variations on this basic outline, and each of their phases can be
slotted into one of the five listed in the diagram.

Identification of need

Concept design

Detailed design

Testing & evaluation

Manufacture

Figure 1. Generic Product Introduction Process

The CORMA project is investigating the PIP interfaces between customers and suppliers.
Thus a key step of the project is the documentation of industrial examples of the PIP,
specifically aiming to identify where exchanges of knowledge or information take place
between customers and suppliers.

3. Knowledge management issues in the extended enterprise

It is recognised that few knowledge management initiatives have been applied to supply-
chains. “While most executives – even those on the leading edge of knowledge management
– applaud efforts to extend knowledge management initiatives to suppliers and customers,
they agree that such initiatives are largely in the embryonic stages.” [9]
Davenport defines knowledge as “information combined with experience, context,
interpretation and reflection.” [1]. Therefore when an individual expresses their tacit
knowledge through communication, it is information which is passed to the recipient. The
recipient must then apply their experience, context interpretation and reflection to the
information so that it becomes their tacit knowledge.
The interfaces between customers and suppliers in the PIP are a key issue for the
knowledge management process. It is at these interfaces that the type of knowledge –
information - knowledge transfer outlined above takes place, with the potential problems of
international collaboration resulting in barriers due to differences in culture, language and
tradition. These barriers cause misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the information and
prevent its successful conversion into tacit, personal knowledge.

4. The components of a knowledge management system

This section outlines the main components of any knowledge management system. This model of
knowledge management was created for the CORMA project, to provide a basis upon which to
carry out our investigations.
The components can be represented using a mind map, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Mind map representing the components of a knowledge management system

• Personnel - Key components of any system are the personnel who provide and use the
knowledge.

• Methodology - Methods for identifying, acquiring, structuring, generating, storing,


distributing and assessing knowledge are all necessary elements of a knowledge
management system.

• Technology - Technology supports the personnel in their use and provision of


knowledge to the system.

• Knowledge domain - Any knowledge system must deal with a finite knowledge
domain in order to be of use.
• Strategy - Supporting a knowledge management system is a company or organisation
strategy. The need for senior management support is often highlighted, and this can be
formalised through the development of a knowledge management strategy.

• Barriers - Although unfortunate, another component of any system are the barriers to
knowledge management and mechanisms or methodologies for overcoming them.

5. Typical barriers faced within this context

This paper identifies and categorises general inter and intra-organisational knowledge
barriers using to the TOP (Technology, Organisation, People) socio-technical systems
classification [10]. Table 1 shows the barriers listed by category and a brief description of
each follows.

Technology Organisation People


Existing resources
Available technology Rewards
Legacy systems Culture
Targeting Internal resistance
Costs Self interest
Proprietary knowledge Trust
Distance Risk
Fear of exploitation
Fear of contamination

Table 1. Barriers to knowledge sharing and knowledge management

1.1 Cross-category barriers

Existing resources
If an organisation is to operate knowledge management and sharing there must be the
required resources available. These resources include money, technology, data transfer
mechanisms, skills and time. This barrier therefore applies to all three categories.
Companies must have employees who can implement and develop the knowledge that
has been accrued. The most successful companies are those that can actively seek
constructive knowledge [11].

The need for rewards


This barrier concerns both organisation and people. Rajan [12], cited by Scarborough, [2]
explained that “it is essential that employees can see that sharing means immediate gains
such as less hassle, or easier tasks, reducing working hours or earlier closing.” The need
for rewards is a people issue, whereas the mechanism by which rewards are conferred is an
organisation issue.

Culture
The Lotus Corporation identify that a company’s culture may not support sharing and
reusing. Mechanisms need to be found to overcome these barriers. Lotus advocate,
“Designing technology to overcome barriers”, [13] but it is generally recognised that
knowledge management systems require a blend of technology and working methods.
1.2 Technology barriers

Available technology
Schwartz [14] quotes consultant Myers-Tierney, as suggesting that the knowledge
management products currently available are not yet fully mature and that organisations
have to “cobble something together.”

Legacy systems
Schwartz [14] identifies legacy systems as a significant barrier to knowledge management.
Tying together the systems of multiple departments and true interoperability is difficult to
achieve.

1.3 Organisation barriers

Poor targeting of knowledge


Scarborough [2] noted that “information needs to be targeted if it is to serve knowledge.” If
a knowledge management system is to be of use, it is important to identify the areas in
which it will be used. “Don’t try to boil the ocean” [15] cited in [2].

Costs of managing knowledge transfer


A barrier to inter-organisational knowledge management is the cost of managing
collaboration. Farr and Fischer [16] studied fourteen product development projects
involving an international co-operative approach. They identify increased costs due to co-
operation with incapable suppliers and organisational co-ordination costs [17] (Lakemond
1999).

Tabrizi and Walleigh [18] identify differences in styles, priorities and motivation as factors
resulting in cost increases [17].

Protection of proprietary knowledge


Sharing proprietary information with collaborators leaves an organisation open to the risk
that this information will be revealed, either intentionally or unintentionally, to competitors.
Raghatz [19] identifies the consequence of this risk as being a resistance within the
organisation to sharing proprietary information with suppliers [17].

Distance

In order to transfer and share knowledge, and open means of communication is required.
Nonaka [20] identified face-to-face communication as the most efficient means, but the
geographical location of the organisations may mean that this is not possible.
Geographical separation may also result in the companies working in different cultural,
legislative or linguistic environments.

1.4 People barriers

Internal resistance
Internal resistance can take a number of forms. Firstly, there is the desire to protect the
interests of the company, by restricting the knowledge being transferred to outside sources.
Second, manufacturers may be dismissive of the importance of their links with, often
smaller, suppliers [21]. Third, where links do occur that are often narrow in their scope,
focussing on technical knowledge transfer [21] and maintained by an individual or small
group. Doz [22] cited three main causes of partnership failures; the lack of active
participation of top and middle management, the adoption of a domineering and controlling
attitude towards the smaller company, and insufficient communication interface design.

Self interest
It is unusual for a company to supply a single customer and where a firm has more than one
customer it is likely that they are competitors. The customer may therefore be unwilling to
share knowledge with a supplier, since information may filter through the competitors and
any improvement in the capabilities of the supplier will benefit the competitor as well as
the sharing company.

Lack of trust
Trust concerns both the receipt and the dissemination of knowledge. If an individual does
not trust the information or knowledge they are receiving they are obviously unlikely to
make full use of it. Conversely, if an individual does not trust the person to whom they are
imparting knowledge to use it wisely or keep company secrets they will resist sharing.
“Trust, it is argued, provide the conditions for collaboration and for the sharing of
knowledge and is thus indispensable to the use of KM systems” [2] [23].

Risk
Risk is related to both the trust and proprietary knowledge barriers. Inter-organisational
knowledge sharing inherently involves an element of risk, particularly where proprietary
knowledge is being shared. The companies and individuals involved must therefore trust
each other to use the knowledge in an appropriate manner.

Fear of exploitation
Lucas [24] outlines some barriers to knowledge sharing which Dr Laura Empson of the
Said Business School, University of Oxford, has identified.
Fear of exploitation “starts with the premise that I will only share my knowledge with
you if I think you can give me something in return.”

Fear of contamination
Empson also identifies in Lucas’ article that “people from firms with a very up-market
brand image were nervous about getting together with people they perceived as more
down-market.”

6. Case Study A – KARE project

KARE supports requirements elicitation and analysis within requirements engineering. It


comprises processes to specify and, ultimately, satisfy customer needs with validated
requirements cheaper and better than the current requirements engineering practice in
industry. Barriers to knowledge sharing have a major impact on costs and improvements.
It is reasonable to view knowledge sharing from a communicative perspective.
Figure 3 shows a simplified illustration of requirements engineering from a
communicative point of view. A customer codes knowledge of his/her needs, e.g. into text,
drawings, or verbal messages, i.e., into information, which in the requirements elicitation
process the supplier decodes into appropriate requirements. The supplier analyses (with or
without the involvement of the customer) the requirements to provide baseline
requirements, which correspond with his/her production faculty. These baseline
requirements are then negotiated with the customer and are if necessary sent back for a
refining process cycle.

CUSTOMER SUPPLIER
Knowledge Requirements Elicitation Knowledge

INFORMATION

Requirements Analysis

INFORMATION

Requirements Negotiation

Figure 3. Communicative view on requirements engineering

The two sets of barriers identified in KARE are both fit, principally, into the people category of the
TOP classification.

Social and cultural barriers


Communication researchers have already pointed out that such processes are more complex
than simple coding and decoding and that social and cultural conditions have a major
impact on requirements engineering. Hence, the likelihood of extended interaction between
customer and supplier. Some researchers [24, 25, 26] refer to ethnographic investigations as
a means of dealing with social and cultural conditions. Such conditions may constitute a
major barrier in requirements engineering issues. This is particularly true in the case of
requirements negotiation, especially because they are rarely conducted using only logical,
technical arguments [27]. The main components of this barrier are as follows:

• Customer needs may be badly documented


• Documents may show all sorts of different formats
• Segregated process of information transmission and information processing. Customer
and supplier do not interact / communicate but exchange information
• Implicit assumptions and tacit knowledge of both customer and supplier

To over come this barrier KARE develops a workbench as a distributed decision making
environment to allow a continuous customer-supplier interaction. The workbench provides
tools to deal with different forms of documents. Furthermore, a dictionary allows the
definition of terms related to customer needs and their rationale. New terminology updates
the dictionary. A requirements repository allows the reuse of requirements in relation to
general terminology or specific customer or supplier expressions.

Personal experience and characteristics


The requirements engineering process transforms customer needs into baseline
requirements. Knowledge sharing requires that knowledge about products, components and
processes, as well as knowledge about requirements are accessible on demand. However,
current practice relies heavily on experience. The personal characteristic of this is a major
barrier to share knowledge. This knowledge depends heavily on the individual’s mental
model of processes, products and so on [28]. The fact, that experience constitutes tacit
knowledge to a large extent amplifies the problem. Tacit knowledge can, by its very nature,
be extremely difficult to share. A formal knowledge model for requirements and artefacts
(like products, components), which allows the representation of knowledge in a
standardised and easily sharable way, would not only greatly improve the sharing potential,
but also the advancement of the knowledge itself.

7. Case Study B – CORMA project

The CORMA Project (Practical Methods and Tools for Corporate Knowledge
Management) aims to develop a knowledge management environment consisting of
methods, tools, knowledge representation models and training materials to support the
product development process in "Concurrent Enterprises".
One of the first steps towards achieving the goals of the project was the identification of
barriers in the knowledge management process of an international extended supply-chain in
the telecommunication sector. Generally these barriers can be categorised according to the
TOP classification. Interestingly in this first result, organisational barriers (geographical
distance, working organisation and so on) where not considered to be obstacles. Instead it
seems that barriers related to people have a much higher impact on the exchange and share
of knowledge. In the following some aspects considered to be barriers to knowledge
management are listed and illustrated by quotes:

1.5 Technology barriers

Efficiency and effectiveness of system


It was highlighted that technology often does not support the requirements of people -
“time spent to enter knowledge into a system”, “oh, no - not another system”, “more
bureaucracy”, “just another something to fill in”

Compatibility of systems
“Will the system work together with SAP, Lotus notes etc.”

1.6 People barriers

Proprietary thinking on different levels


Country-level - “English vs. Swedish”
Company-level - “Company X Ltd. vs. non-Company X Ltd.”
Hierarchy-level - “manager vs. non-manager”
Department-level - “engineers vs. non-engineers”
Individual-level - “knowledge is power, what is the personal advantage for the person who
gives the “know-how” into the system?”

Scepticism towards the sharing of knowledge


This barrier took three different forms. Firstly gain, in terms of what the individual or
company gets out of the exercise - “does it really add value to me?”, “customer may take
all our information, and not give us anything back. We do not get anything out of it”.
Secondly, in terms of use – “will anyone use what I’m putting into the system?” Finally,
reliability – “how reliable will the knowledge given be?”
Fear of penalty
“What happens with the person who gave the knowledge, when the interpretation form the
user is in a wrong way?”

Fear of becoming redundant


“The person is not needed anymore after giving the knowledge into a system”

Fear of losing power


“Knowledge is power.”

Fear of losing resources


“If internal structures made are public – staff may be head hunted”

Fear of losing company stability/market position


“Our technical information is what makes us unique – to share the information with
competitors could be suicide”; “As a customer we tend to tie up our suppliers down and
bully people, we swallow up smaller companies, this could happen to us if we open up”.

Fear of losing confidentiality


“We feed all our info into customers and suppliers, who may then share it all with our
competitors or other bodies”; “ Competitors could steal drawings – we would go out of
business”

Lack of common ground / skills


The areas identified where this barrier may apply are as follows:

• Language - “English vs. German”


• Terminology - “What is knowledge?”, “How can we make a difference between idea,
theory, hypothesis and proofed knowledge?”
• Knowledge sharing culture - “What is the needed knowledge culture?”
• Assessment of knowledge - “How can we assess the value of knowledge?”

The above results are based on an initial brainstorming done by the participating
industrial members of the CORMA project. Further analysis is required and is to be
performed during the running project.

8. Discussion

This paper has outlined barriers to knowledge sharing identified in the literature and
through work done with industrial companies. The work has shown that the majority of
barriers are concerned with people issues. Much discussion of knowledge management
concerns the latest software tool. However, it would seem that emphasis should be placed
not on technology, but on how to best enable people to participate in knowledge sharing.
How can people be encouraged to share? How can trust be established between
collaborating organisations? How can cultural barriers be overcome? How can fear be
replaced by enthusiasm?
The CORMA project aims to define methods for overcoming the barriers outlined here.
These methods will be supported by software, but the main focus is “the human factor” in
knowledge sharing.
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